Sunday, January 21, 2018

Review: Need to Know

Need to Know Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written by a former CIA analyst in counter-terrorism, this quick read explores the idea of Russian sleeper agents, but inside a family. Perfect for fans of the best spy show around, The Americans. Although I could have used a bit more complexity, I still enjoyed the read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via NetGalley.

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Review: Winter

Winter Winter by Karl Ove Knausgård
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second volume in the four-season set of "Season Encyclopedias," where the author writes an essay about a one-word object/topic/concept, in one sitting. They vary in seriousness and theme, and I think the seasons sometimes effect the essays and sometimes they don't. Still, I started reading Winter when we had a snow day, because it seemed the closest I could get to Norwegian weather.

The object/nature/concept essays are interspersed with letters to his unborn/born daughter, because she comes at the end of January, which happens in this volume.

I found the best way to read this was a few essays at a time, in between other reads.

You may see my review of the previous volume, Autumn, here.

My favorites in this volume include:
Mess (about messy people and his messy house)
Winter Sounds (very beautiful passage about the forest in winter!)
The Local
Fish (talks about his realization of the connections between the water and island as a young teen)

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss. This comes out January 23, 2018.

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Review: Grief Map

Grief Map Grief Map by Sarah Hahn Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I snagged a copy of this when I saw it was set in Alaska and that fit within my reading goals for the year. What I found was a reflective look at a relationship that ended in a grief multiplied by several factors - mental illness, having to leave, and the death of the person left. That's a lot of things to work through!

The book is written in brief segments, sometimes they are more like memoir and tell the story of Sarah and Lia. Sometimes they are more like creative non-fiction, utilizing elements of physical objects like atlas keys and autopsy reports. Sometimes they are dreams, which serve to show the author working through the emotional and sub-conscious elements of grief and memory.

The story of the relationship itself is worth the read of this book. Both Sarah and Lia were married to men when they met, and the gradual realization of their love for one another is beautiful and painful. The sacrifices made by both and the struggle to form new identities within the other make the separation and death even more poignant.

There is also this Alaskan element, which really does figure into the narrative. Is there just something about the type of people who thrive in difficult climates? That survival instinct seems important here as well.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this backlisted title through Edelweiss. (Backlisted = it is already out.)

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Review: Idaho

Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard an in-depth examination of this book when I recorded with a guest on Episode 086 of the Reading Envy Podcast, and last year I feel like ever blogger, reviewer, and podcaster had glowing things to say about the book. I put it on the "reading envy" list for 2017, aka books I wish I'd read but didn't get to (full list
I think when people don't like the book, it often has to do with what their expectations are. There is a crime described in the earlier sections, but the book does not really explain the crime. People expecting the author to do so end the book frustrated and unsatisfied. Knowing that isn't what the book is, well, that helps. It strikes me as similar to discussion surrounding a different book from a different award list - Reservoir 13, which started with a missing child, also never solved. In that book, the author kept pulling back and showing the town - both its people and natural elements - in their cycles beyond that event. And here too, the author is focusing in on the people directly and tangentially related to the crime, as they live their lives. Because it is not linear and more information is revealed, it does at times feel like there is a revelation coming soon, but it just doesn't end that way.

In Instagram, I had a great conversation with another reader, whose thoughts really put it all in perspective for me. Kristin-Leigh says
"To me, if I had to say, Idaho is really about the question of what makes people themselves as individuals - is it memory, or trauma, or relationships to others, or interests, and what happens to that identity when those elements change?

Is Wade still Wade without his memories? "
... Etc. (You can read her entire review here.)

I think this is one of those rare books to fit into that category I'm discovering really works for me - where the author takes you somewhere you aren't expecting, and keeps you in the world of the book long after you have finished because of that. I think this is one of the better books in the Tournament of Books this year!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

Yanira returns to discuss books with Jenny, where we end up talking about island literature and memoir, the perfect venn diagram of romance and witness protection, and other kinds of love. Since we recorded at the end of 2017, we talk a little about our years in reading.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

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I am starting to schedule guests for 2018! If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

Books featured:

Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Augustown by Kei Miller
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Other mentions:
Junot Díaz
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
The Exceptions by David Cristofano
Conquistadora by Esmerelda Santiago
The Turkish Lover by Esmerelda Santiago
Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knect
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018

Related episodes:

Episode 070 - Words Like Weapons with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 096 - Not Without Hope with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 097 - Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold

Stalk us online:

Yanira is @notafraidofwords on Litsy
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Little Reunions

Little Reunions Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The translator for this book had quite the task, because it isn't just the words needing translated, but also a complex family structure and intricate layers of meanings behind gestures and comments. But to read a "romance" of sorts set in Shanghai right before the Communist Revolution is a very specific capture of a moment in time. This is its first time in English, and although it was written in the 1970s, it was not published in China until 2009.

It is somewhat challenging to read because of the complex relationship trees, and reminds me of a 19th century novel of manners, but with a new setting, one I am less familiar with. One where loyalties are complicated, love is not always monogamous, and leaving is sometimes the best option. (That's where the title comes from, all the "little reunions" people would have when returning from exile/pilgrimage/escape.)

The central character of Julie shares some characteristics with the author, in that they both had to leave school in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded during World War II, and they both ended up married to Japanese sympathizers who ended up as traitors.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The book comes out January 16, 2018.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: The Night Masquerade

The Night Masquerade The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would not read this without reading the previous Binti books, Binti and Home. So much of the detail in this story comes from the world-building in the first two, and reading the third is a much richer experience with that knowledge under your belt.

That said, this is an interesting exploration of a different type of conflict with species who can hardly communicate. Binti has a role to play although it is one she does not even understand entirely. She returns back to school, to a place that has demonstrated that people of all possible modes of communication and lifestyle can live in peace with a few simple accommodations and not only does it serve as a sharp contrast to her home planet, but to our world as well.

I don't want to say much more about it but this is a great conclusion to this imaginative trilogy. Don't forget your otjize on the journey.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title via NetGalley. It comes out January 16, 2018.

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